Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Writing Poetry

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Persona poems are great because you’re not working with a blank canvas but rather, a page out of an adult coloring book. You have the bones—you just have to flesh them out. While this is not strictly a persona poem (mine is written in the third-person; personas are written in first-), it still works. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/01/26/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-337-theme-persona-poem/

Start a reading journal (this is best for poetry). Unlike a book review, which analyzes the text for deeper meanings, a poetry reading journal is about what the text means to you. Here are some interesting poems to get you started. https://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/p180-list.html

A pantoum poem is like a puzzle where the pieces sometimes repeat themselves in unexpected ways. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/02/19/pantoum-poem-an-exercise-in-repetition/

Think about messages that might be written on a Post-It note, and find a way to repurpose them as poetry. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/09/01/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-365-theme-year-in-the-life/

Write long, edit short. Poetry writing isn’t just for poets; it can help your short stories become more poetic.

For three years, I participated in the Writer’s Digest Poem-a-Day challenges in April and November (as well as the Wednesday prompts the other months). Daily, I posted the poem to my blog, which gave me time to build up my regular feature posts (Micropoetry Mondays and Fiction Fridays). It may seem stressful to produce a whole piece a day, but that piece can be a three-line stanza poem (which are more likely to get read in their entirety than a 100-line narrative)—the length of a tweet. http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2017-april-pad-challenge-day-4.  

If you have an old shoebox full of letters or an inbox full of emails/private messages, you can write a “found poem.” https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/found-poem-poetic-form

List poems are one of my favorite forms. Come up with a common theme or thread (i.e., that awkward moment, what if, I love it when . . , etc.), and knit a narrative that resonates. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/04/02/poem-a-day-2016-writers-digest-challenge-1-theme-foolish/

An apostrophe poem is talking to something (tangible or intangible, something you like or dislike) about how it’s affected your life. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/03/29/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-390-theme-title-of-the-poem-is-a-music-genre/

If your story doesn’t tell one, it just might be a poem.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Submitting

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If you want to get published, know your audience (and publishers). When I entered The Saturday Evening Post’s “Great American Fiction Contest” (in which my story placed Honorable Mention), one of the guidelines was to “Think local. The Post has historically played a role in defining what it means to be an American. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future.” I implemented items emblematic of “Americana,” like community college, Post-It notes, Starbucks, Wheel of Fortune, and the concept of being a “Pollyanna.” Knowing how much The Sat Eve Post loves limericks (they hold a monthly limerick contest), I ended my story with one (the title of my piece was “The Post-It Poet,” after all). The day after I entered this contest was the day I started working on next year’s entry.

Before submitting your book manuscript to an agent or publishing house, build up your author platform. (Think of it as an online audition.) Here are some tips to get you started. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/10/08/12-ways-to-build-your-writers-platform/

Don’t use the “kitchen-sink theory,” meaning that you’ll send a publisher whatever just to see if it’ll stick. (It won’t.) Whenever I’ve gotten published, it’s been because I’ve not only tailored the piece to fit their needs, but I’ve gotten a feel for what they’re looking for by reading what they publish. You learn by reading and doing. 

Have a submission schedule for the publications you write for regularly. For example, on the fifteenth of every month, I submit a poem to a certain publication I adore—one I’ve been published in before. Also, keep track of what you write. I have a master list of pieces I’ve written and where I have submitted each. I’ve written so much poetry, I’ve had to categorize them into Shutterfly anthologies. 

Writing opportunities are everywhere: some consider publication as payment and others require payment simply to be read. Pick your poison. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/01/31/a-publishers-market-not-a-writers-market/

Identifying your target audience is important as it helps paint a picture for the publisher on how to market your novel. For mine, I’d say my target audience is college-educated women between the ages of 25–45 who have been a part of the Mormon experience or are familiar with the religion. It’s also recommended to list a few books (published by well-known authors) your target audience might like.

Let your piece marinate at least a week before submitting (if time constraints allow). Edit on hardcopy and read aloud. You will catch more mistakes that way because you force yourself to listen rather than scan.

Query letters must capture the attention of editors and publishers as many won’t read your manuscript without one. Just think of it as another writing challenge. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/01/17/query-letter-to-missouri-life-magazine/

Plan for writing contests a year in advance, so you never miss a deadline, and you’re always submitting quality work.

Trying to write for a publication or contest because it pays well or the entry is free when you have no interest in the topic, theme, or publication will take more time than writing two pieces you are passionate about for a publication you read. For example, there was a national women’s magazine on which the topic was, “What is the bravest thing you have ever done?” When I saw the previous years’ winning entries—serving in Afghanistan and other equally courageous things (i.e., larger than life achievements), I realized the bravest thing I’d ever done was get my wisdom teeth pulled without being put under, so I passed.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Journalism

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Creative writers have the potential to be great journalists, but the newspaper’s needs come first, and that usually means previewing/covering events or profiling people/businesses. People want to know what’s going on rather than your opinion on what’s going on.

Always ensure names are spelled correctly. Ask how to spell their name, even if it is Ann Smith/Anne Smyth or John Davis/Jon Davis. Typos are one thing, but it is a cardinal sin to misspell someone’s name.

Never conduct interviews through email. Do the legwork! Sometimes, in asking one question, the answer will lead to another question you didn’t already dream up. An interview is supposed to be a conversation, not a questionnaire. (That is asking them to do the work. Not cool.) Plus, you are cheating yourself out of honing a valuable skill. Anyone can send an email but interviewing well (feeling comfortable talking to strangers as well as making them feel comfortable enough to talk to you) takes a special soft skill. Phone interviews work but only if meeting them in person is an absolute impossibility.

Following an interview, before you look at your notes or listen to your audio, free-write everything you can remember before you write the story. This will help you get a feel for how you want your story to flow.

Don’t just copy and paste but rather, rewrite what you learn in a way you can understand. If you ever decide to tutor someone in English or go into teaching, this will help you explain more complicated concepts.

Regarding college journalism, it is better to review an event on campus versus a review of something (e.g., a community play) someone else is already reviewing. The purpose of the campus newspaper is to get as many student names and faces in it as possible.

As a freelance reporter, I have learned it is just as important to have questions ready as it is to know when to let them keep talking; often, they will answer more than one of those questions. Your subject will not always stick to the script. This can help you become a better listener, for you’re not just thinking about what you’re going to ask next, but you’re focusing on what they are saying at that moment.

Caption photos (or at least compile the information) the same day you take the photos. Remember, the information you use for the captions doesn’t have to be pulled from the article, which makes captions a great way to use information you couldn’t fit into the article. A photo captures the moment; a caption adds context to that moment.

If you like current events, hard news articles are for you. If you like history, feature stories are for you. Both have their place in journalism. I’m always a week late and several dollars short, so the story behind the story is my cup of coffee.

It is said that a newspaper story lasts for a day, but a short story lasts long after the author has passed away. Here are two pieces that were originally published in a newspaper and have stood the test of Father Time.   https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2019/12/in-a-word-eight-er-nine-tiny-reindeer/ and https://www.newseum.org/exhibits/online/yes-virginia/.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Wordplay

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Play-on words are as fun to read as they are challenging to write: https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/02/writers-digest-poem-a-day-challenge/

Pick a noun and write every word you can think of associated with it. This exercise will sharpen your ability to play with play-on words. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/05/09/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-435-reserved/

I took a list of root operations (i.e., resection, extirpation, fragmentation, etc.) I learned from my medical coding classes and creating a series of poems that implement one of those processes and newspaper jargon. The results are fun and surprising. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/07/23/something-for-everyone-resecting-at-the-sunday-breakfast-table/

When I’m stuck, I come up with a list of opposites and how I can link them. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/02/07/micropoetry-monday-opposites/

Writing about our crazy language can be fun. Pick some words that vex you and explain why they do. For me, extraordinary would seem to mean its opposite—extra ordinary.

Know your craft, but play around with words. Have fun with language. (Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll did, among others.) You can still be literary without having to be literal. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/03/25/fun-with-words-lists-are-fun/

Noodling around with words germane to a certain subject be it math (https://sarahleastories.com/2017/11/10/writers-digest-november-poem-a-day-2017-challenge-10-theme-going-somewhere/) or English (https://sarahleastories.com/2017/11/13/writers-digest-november-poem-a-day-2017-challenge-13-theme-city/) can be a fun way to use old words in a new way or even learn new words, as every vocation or discipline has its vocabulary.

https://sarahleastories.com/2017/11/05/writers-digest-november-poem-a-day-2017-challenge-4-theme-whosoever-blank/

Dictionary.com has a Word of the Day, but sometimes those words, although fun to know, you will probably never use, as they are archaic (and would only come in handy if you are writing about that particular time and place). If you’re seeking more avant-garde terminology, try Urban Dictionary. Even if a word doesn’t have a place in your speaking, it might have a place in your writing. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/04/25/poem-a-day-april-2018-writers-digest-challenge-25-theme-intriguing-seldom-used-word/

Take a bunch of related words and see what you can cook up. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/04/18/poem-a-day-april-2018-writers-digest-challenge-18-theme-temptation/

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Characters

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Describe your characters in such a way that the reader has a composite sketch of them but not a photograph. Give your reader enough room to fill in the blanks. However, describing a character as “Marilyn Monroe-esque” helps paint the picture immediately with a familiar reference and without bogging them down with too many details.

I already know what I think of myself and can only imagine what other people think of me. A great quote from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is when Mr. Toohey asks the idealistic architect, Howard Roark, “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us,” to which Roark replies, “But I don’t think of you.” For this exercise, you must dig deep—remove yourself from your writing and step into the mind (if not the shoes) of someone who knows you fairly well. You are not looking in the mirror, but at yourself looking in the mirror. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/04/26/poem-a-day-april-2018-writers-digest-challenge-26-theme-relationship/

What people choose to display in their office can tell you a lot about them. The same goes for their Facebook page.

Will your story be one of redemption or contamination? I try to live the story I want to tell or the story I want someone to tell about me. https://ideas.ted.com/the-two-kinds-of-stories-we-tell-about-ourselves/

Describe a character’s bedroom in such a way your reader will feel they know that character without having met them yet.

There is the good, the bad, and the mediocre, but the films that keep me thinking about them, long after I’ve seen them, are the ones in which I see myself in one of the characters. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/08/09/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-448-chore/

Strunk and White are right but, if it is out of character for your character to say “simultaneously,” rather than “at the same time,” go for authenticity.

Every family has one of these. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/04/29/poem-a-day-2016-writers-digest-challenge-29-theme-haphazard/

You can turn your life (or someone else’s) into a fairy tale, a horror story, a dramedy, et cetera. It all depends on the perception you choose.

Humans often contradict themselves. We don’t always make sense or understand why we do the things we do. The interesting part is when the character (or reader) tries to figure out the “why.” https://sarahleastories.com/2015/11/24/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-21-theme-strange/

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Writing Truths

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Too many characters will spoil a plot.

Writing well is a skill; writing an engaging story is a talent.

You will never have enough time to write. You just have to make the most of the time you have.

A compelling plot will keep readers reading, but compelling characters will keep them rereading.

Know what to show, and know what to tell.

Reading, writing, and editing your own work is the cake but professional development, such as attending (and participating in) workshops, seminars, and conferences is the icing.

Creativity sometimes has to be managed, but it must never be stifled.

The writer’s life should consist of reading, writing, reading about writing, and writing about reading.

If you reveal everything about a character, they’re like a solved crossword puzzle.

Imitation is a form of admiration; plagiarism is not.

5 Ways I’ve Used Minimalism to Improve my Writing

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My Instagram posts

Instagram: Poetry Unfiltered

Every Saturday and Sunday, I publish a “Post-It-sized” poem on Instagram. I used to feel that I had to make each poem “pop” with the use of filters until I realized that such was unnecessary. I could feel the seconds being wasted, trying to come up with just the right filter, so I started screenshotting my poem with my phone via Google Docs and publishing it as is with the hashtag #nofilter. I realized there is a certain beauty in stark white and bold black. Coming up with appropriate hashtags take enough of my time.

Images are (Almost) Everything

Because I blog a minimum of twice weekly, it helps to recycle images, especially with my recurring features: Micropoetry Mondays and Fiction Fridays. For Monday, if my theme is “The Lighter Side” or “Opposites,” I use the same graphic; eventually, I will design my own logo for Micropoetry Monday, so I can ditch the stock photography all together (I’ve already scrubbed my blog of most of it). Because Fiction Fridays are all excerpts from my book or poetry based on it, I use the same graphic. Even when it comes to LinkedIn, rather than using a stock photo, I use my business card in basic black and plain white (without my personal address or telephone number) and an eye-grabbing headline. However, since I’ve discovered the Medium Daily Digest’s publishing platform (https://medium.com/), which is lot more attractive than LinkedIn’s (and not about boring corporate culture), I use an abstract photo—usually a close-up of something loosely related to the quotation I paste over it.  (And my quotes are always original.  There is enough recycled content out there.)

Strunk and White + Stephen King = Needful words

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is one grammar book that changed my writing (and maybe my life). It is what I call a hornbook for all writers. I applied its principles to my writing when I worked for my community college newspaper for several semesters, which helped me with conciseness (though I would still try to sneak in the Oxford comma). In On Writing by Stephen King, King says to “Kill your darlings”; I say you have to kill your characters (meaning the alphabet kind). Writing also helped me chuck 99% of my adverbs; nothing beats “he said” or “she said.” You want those dialogue tags to be invisible. I credit these two books and my experience as a student reporter in helping me get the job as a clarity editor for Grammarly.

Social media < Writing, Editing, Submitting

When I started my blog in October 2013, I thought I had to be as omnipresent as possible when it came to social media, but, after an incredible amount of spam I received on Twitter and people following just to get a follow, I ditched it and Pinterest, too. Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and LinkedIn is enough for me. (Often, what I post in one place gets posted in another). What time I used to spend trying to brand myself on all those social media accounts I could be spending building my vocabulary, submitting to actual publications, etc. I don’t have time to engage with all my followers — I need readers who aren’t writers. After more than three years of posting my Wednesday and Poem-a-Day prompts (in April and November) for Writer’s Digest on their blog and mine, I realized it was time for me to move on, which simplified my writing life even more. I needed content I could write ahead of time, so I could schedule it to publish on my blog at a later date. 

Submissions: Kitchen-Sink Theory Does Not Apply

I used to think I had to flood the market with submissions rather than focus on a handful of publishers. Targeting your publications gives you time to read and study them; submission guidelines alone will not provide intuition into what the editors are looking for. I have since discovered that my work would not be considered literary, so most small presses would not be a good fit; I have a better shot at larger publishers because of their more mainstream content. If I pick up a journal and don’t “get” any of the poems, then it’s the wrong publication for me; if I pick up a magazine and don’t enjoy any of the stories, then it’s not a good fit for my writing. This keeps me from being overwhelmed with reading material.

How to schedule posts ahead of time on your Facebook author/business page

This semester, I chose Professional and Technical Writing as one of my electives.

One of our assignments was to create a set of instructions.  Immediately, I thought of something I already knew how to do, which was how to schedule Facebook page posts ahead of time.  I spend about a day or two before a new semester starts, scheduling posts three days a week for the next four months.  (It helps to have plenty of content.)  I also have my Instagram set up to automatically post to my Facebook page.   

This instruction set got a 100% and some fab feedback, so I felt confident enough to share it.  🙂  Let me know how it works out for you in the comment box below.

Front page

Click here for the full instructions:  Resdesigned Facebook instructions

Writers Matter

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This fall, I will be working towards my B.A. in Creative Writing at the University of West Florida.  I basically took an extended spring break and summer vacation.  I’d been in school four years, earning an A.A. and an A.S.

For months, I’ve proven to myself that I can make a daily deadline when it comes to my writing, but now the time has come for me to focus a greater portion of my time on honing my craft rather posting on my blog, Facebook page, and Instagram.  I’ll still post thrice weekly on SarahLeaStories (it’s nice to have two years of posts “in the can”); when it comes to the rest, that’s what a few minutes on the weekend are for.   

I will always be a writer, editor, and content creator.  I even enjoyed being a writing tutor (I’m too shy to be a teacher) for those who wanted to learn and wanted to get better; I enjoy helping people that way because I am good at it.  I will never be a fundraiser, but someday, I hope to be in the position to either give back or pay it forward.  My last job inspired that in me, for I had no idea how much private money went to help students, even though I had been the recipient of some scholarships.

While at the Foundation, I also got the opportunity to do a write-up for the local newspaper about alumni who have “made good,” and by that, I mean that they “did good.”  (They were also genuinely friendly.)  
 https://www.pnj.com/story/news/2019/05/23/pensacola-state-college-honors-distinguished-alumni-awards-gala/3747764002/

I am proud of my work, of all the writing I do, and no one will ever take that from me or make me feel ashamed because it is “all I want to do.”  I am pursuing my passion, with passion, and every day that I show up and do my job to the very best of my ability, it isn’t just because I have pride in any work I do or because I have bills to pay, but it’s so that I can live another day to write what I want and share it with anyone who is interested enough to read it.  Maybe my writing won’t build buildings, but it has helped me build relationships.  And when my writing makes someone smile or laugh or be inspired in some small way, I feel that is one of my contributions to the world.  

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Writing Truths

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Many inventions and businesses have changed the world, but the awesome thing about being a writer is that you don’t have to be an engineer for your character to invent a life-changing device or service—just like you don’t have to be an entrepreneur for your character to open his/her own business. You make the magic happen with the tapping of keys—no mathematics or business acumen required.

A setting can be as much of a character as a person. Just as people often bounce off each other or react to one another, the way a character engages with their surroundings can reveal a great deal about them (as two people can be in the same setting, and have a completely distinct perspective of it; I’ve written about my current town through the prisms of positivity and negativity, to help set the mood, or tone). Think about it: What would Gone with the Wind be without the Deep South, The Wizard of Oz without Oz?
https://sarahleastories.com/2014/02/19/daily-prompt-west-end-girls-2/

Writing for children isn’t any easier than writing for adults. It just requires a smaller word count.

Fairy tales are great because they have a beginning, middle, and end. Nothing is worse than reading a book that starts in the wrong place (e.g. too many flashbacks) or simply ends. Satisfy your readers; tell the whole tale, for stories, like life, aren’t just in the big picture but in the details. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/05/20/not-the-story-but-how-you-tell-it/

Postmodernism is a style of writing that can challenge us to challenge an “absolute truth,” be it moral, spiritual, cultural, historical, medical, et cetera.

There is nothing like good that draws people together. You don’t have to be a food critic to write about food, but writing about it does help hone one’s descriptive writing skills in the areas of taste, touch, and smell. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/04/16/poem-a-day-2016-writers-digest-challenge-16-theme-about-or-at-a-food-establishment/

Memories are made in cars, as well as homes.  They are made in parks, in museums, and on the beach.

Readers care about plots, but they care about characters more.  https://sarahleastories.com/2018/01/25/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-424-sick/

A “book within a book” should never be more interesting than the story in which the “book within a book” appears.

Writing is like a mathematical equation, except the answer doesn’t have to be exact (not everyone will get the same answer). You add and subtract scenes and characters, multiply the stakes, and can even divide the points-of-view, if you wish.